A rough guide to... Cheltenham Town

Cod Almighty | Article

by Miles Moss

1 August 2016

Cheltenham's league position may not look too clever. But that's because they are drawing loads

How are you?

There's this kid at school who makes your life a misery. They're not a bully or anything, but bad things seem to happen every time you meet. They accidentally let a door swing back in your face once, and you lost a tooth. Sitting near them in class inevitably leads to an undeserved detention. Your shoulders sink every time you see them coming across the playground. Hello, Cheltenham.

Short time, no see?

The last time we saw Cheltenham, April fools' day 2016, Mariners fans were still fingernailing on to the slim hope of automatic promotion. Cheltenham won the match easily, 3-1. "They will go up as champions", concluded the Cod Almighty match stats, "but with immense ill-will for a supreme lack of grace in playing and victory. They have no style whatsoever, in any respect."

Why such antipathy for an opponent we're only meeting now for the tenth time? Statistically, honours are fairly even – three wins, two draws, four defeats, from a Grimsby point of view. It's those four defeats where lies the animosity: that play-off final loss in Cardiff in 2006; an opening-day defeat in 2009, the seasonus horribilus; and then doing the double over the Mariners last season, romping off with that automatic spot (at the first time of asking, let's not forget) and leaving us to the emotional trauma of the play-offs.

If you need reminding, the Robins' bungee-rope return to the Football League was quite emphatic. They ended last season on 101 points (12 clear of second-placed Forest Green Rovers), the most goals scored and fewest conceded, the most victories and fewest defeats. Bloody show-offs.

So we could be forgiven, I suppose, for looking at today's league table with a modicum of glee. As I write this, Grimsby are sitting in sixth place, while Cheltenham are down in 19th, three points off the bottom two, and that courtesy of a much-needed win last weekend. Of course, I'm putting a spin on this; it's still early days and there are only seven points between us.

So, it is indeed the shortest time since we last met. The only time we've spent apart has been the summer holidays – a time for kicking back, relaxing and, if you're a manager, signing shitloads of players. Gary Johnson's pen this summer was used to re-sign plenty of existing players, plus new ones such as defenders James Jennings and Daniel O'Shaughnessy, and more recently winger Alex Cooper. Daniel O'Shaughnessy, as you can tell from his name, is… wait, what? Finnish? (Born in Riihimäki to an Irish father, since you ask.) During the summer Johnson has also had a borry of players from Villa, Everton, Bristol City, Reading, and Birmingham. And his next-door neighbour's lawnmower.

How are you feeling?

After – what's the phrase I'm looking for? – pissing the Conference, hopes must have been high among Robins fans for the team to carry on in the same manner, but it's not been a particularly auspicious start. Three draws and a defeat came before their first three-pointer, and then September went LDLLD. Two more bloody draws followed, albeit against play-off-sitters Luton and Accrington. Then came last week's victory over Crawley, which has made the league position look a little more respectable.

Two wins out of thirteen doesn't sound great, but it's those seven draws that have held them back. Mind you, they were behind in four of those, and managed to nick a point, three times in the last ten minutes. So watch out, Grimsby – Cheltenham are Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. No, not the bit with the rabbit. The bit at the end in the bathtub with the knife.

No doubt the Robins have missed striker Dan Holman, joint top scorer in the Conference last season (with some Irish bloke, I forget who). Holman has swapped his golden boot for a walking cast, having suffered a pre-season training ground injury, chipping a "bony growth" off his big toe, which then floated around under the skin. Sorry, were you having breakfast? He'll be back in contention soon, apparently, but not soon enough to cause a nuisance this weekend.

Where are you from?

We at CA don't like to mention sponsor names, but I'd like to make an exception here to point out that Cheltenham play at the World of Smile Stadium. Mind you, I'm sure nobody actually calls it that, because it sounds ridiculous. It's a company who install conservatories, apparently. "You can't say the name without grinning," claimed a company director in 2015 on signing the three-year deal. I beg to differ.

Whaddon Road is a much more fitting name. Sponsored names tend to conjure up images of industrial estate horror show charmless and soulless metal boxes, graveyards for the very essence of football. Whaddon Road couldn't be further from that. Built in 1927, it now has a characterful mix of stands old and new, and it's in the heart of a community. Wayward shots from overly ambitious strikers will end up not in Tile Giant's car park, but in people's back gardens, the local recreation ground, a community centre or the local Buddhist meditation rooms. And if the greenery directly around the ground isn't enough, it's possible to see the Cotswolds from some of the stands, apparently.

Having a football ground of character and charm is very apt for a place like Cheltenham, which boomed in the 18th century as a spa town, and still oozes grace and refinement today. I've never been to Cheltenham, but I'm reading about beautiful Regency architecture, the splendour of the tree-lined Promenade, excellent hotels and restaurants, and the funky-sounding Montpellier area, and I'm kind of liking the sound of the place.

Then there are the festivals. Personally I have no interest in horse racing, but I could visit the folk, jazz, science, classical music, or this month's literature festival quite happily. So, sounds quite good. Mind you, they haven't got the Fishing Heritage Centre. Or a pier. Or Steel's Cornerhouse.

You must be so bloody cultured?

Hey, maybe there's something in the spa water. Your common-or-garden internet forum is usually a good place to start with your binoculars and the Observer Book of Irrational Lunatics, but on a random twitch into various threads on the Robins Nest I glimpsed some fairly intelligent discussions, a healthy disregard for the Trophy Which Shall Not Be Named, and an interesting thread which started as a discussion about how beastly and charmless a certain Accrington player was, but which quickly dissolved into a farcical argument between Robins fans, each determined to prove themselves the most anti-homophobic. The thread was eventually shut down by the exasperated moderator with the words "Whatever will any visitors think?"

The Mariners may not have had any luck against a team of charmless nerks last season, and of course I hope we can do the double over them this… but everything I read about the town, the football club and their fans make me like Cheltenham more.

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